The (in)decisive moment: Photographers Research – Walker Evans

01st May 2021

That’s my idea of what a portrait ought to be, anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.

Walker Evans (s.d.)

Walker Evans – Labor Anonymous

In 1946 Walker Evans produced a series with the title ‘Labor Anonymous’ for Fortune a business and finance magazine which fully funded his trip and his work in Detroit.

The camera that Evans used to shoot his figures was a Rolleiflex, which,

… was designed to be used by a photographer who is not looking directly at his subject. A second advantage of this camera is its separate lens for viewing: there is no mirror to spring out of the way when the photographer presses the shutter release… With the much the smaller Rolleiflex, there is no delay after the photographer presses the shutter release, and no noise from a moving mirror, only a tiny click of the between-the-lens shutter, which would pass unnoticed on a city street. Evans habitually used short cable releases with his Rolleiflexes, so a passer-by woud not even see his finger on the shutter release button.

Thompson, J.L. (2016:18)

With his camera held at waist level he made 150 exposures of the ‘labourers’ walking from right to left in front of a plywood wall. The wall provided a blank and simple background which does not deter the viewers eyes away from the figures within the photographs.

Evan’s had also considered the suns direction and because his subjects were walking towards it “the light strikes his figures in the face, modelling their features…” Thompson (2016:22).

The portraits within this series are unposed and are taking within a pre-determined area, some of the figures had noticed that they are being watched by Evan’s and look at the camera and others walk by unaware. Using the decisive-moment technique to capture his subjects required timing and unlike Henri Cartier-Bresson who conceived this concept, Evan’s did not require a background full of information, shapes, lines and rhythm. The composition is all about his subjects.

Evan’s focused in tightly on the figures cropping them from the waist and hip. This forces the viewer to study upper body language, clothes and facial expressions and individuality of the people caught by his camera.

I greatly appreciate this series of work. I find the concept and the composition of the figures within the frame exciting. This is due to the fact that I enjoy studying people and although I work in the area of street photography which includes people interacting in their environment, it is the detailed and close-up studies of people that are unaware they are being photographed that really intrigues me.

I believe the reason that I am drawn towards images like Evan’s ‘Labor Anonymous’ is that people are seen raw, their real essence which can only be witnessed when people are in their own zone and natural to themselves and the world around them.

The image below shows the final selected eleven images in the Fortune magazine.

Fig. 1 “Labor Anonymous” Fortune, November 1946, pp. 152–153
 

Illustrations

Fig. 1 Evans, W. (1946) Labor Anonymous. [Magazine article/ photographs] At: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/walker-evanss-typology-of-the-american-worker (Accessed 13.05.2021)

Bibliography

Books

Thompson, J. L. (2016) Walker Evans Labor: Anonymous. (1st Ed.) Germany: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln

Websites

Evans, W (s.d.) Walker Evans Quotes (s.d.) https://www.azquotes.com/author/4599-Walker_Evans (Accessed 01.05.21)


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